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Deforestation: damage goes beyond Amazon


The burning of the Amazon has caused alarm around the world, from the Vatican to the G7, and there are fears that unless the fires are stopped swiftly the forests could reach a point of no return in the loss of wildlife and biodiversity.

Forest loss has also been happening in other areas of the world but has received a lower level of global attention.

Africa is of particular concern. According to a report on the New York Declaration On Forests, signed in 2014, with the aim of halting deforestation globally by 2030, the “troubling” new hotspots of increasing forest loss are in west Africa and the Congo basin.

While the greatest losses of forests by area in the years 2014-2018 occurred in tropical Latin America, the greatest rate of increase was in Africa, where deforestation rates leapt from less than 2m hectares a year on average from 2001 to 2013, to more than 4m a year from 2014 to 2018. In the Democratic Republic of Congo rates of deforestation have doubled in the past five years.

Fire in the Amazon region. Some fires are lit to facilitate small-scale subsistence agriculture, others clear land for commercial plantations.



Fire in the Amazon region. Some fires are lit to facilitate small-scale subsistence agriculture, others clear land for commercial plantations. Photograph: Brasil2/Getty Images

Charlotte Streck, co-founder and director of Climate Focus, the thinktank that coordinated the report from 25 forest organisations, said: “Deforestation has increased rapidly in Africa, coming from a relatively low level to begin with, but it is risen very quickly but very quietly.”

Government policy is a key factor. In Brazil the rate of forest loss declined sharply in the mid 2000s after laws were passed and the government put stronger policies in place to discourage illegal logging and regulate the expansion of cattle ranches and soya plantations. But the signalling of approval for agricultural takeover of the Amazon by the country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has led to the massive fires still burning now.

In Africa much of the demand for logging comes from China, which has taken a strategic interest in the continent, buying land and doing resource deals with governments in exchange for internal investment and development cash.

“African timber is exported to China, and this is one of the three dominant causes of deforestation. China could act on illegal timber and be very effective, for instance if the Chinese government put in a requirement on tracing [timber and forest goods],” said Streck.

Patrolling guards investigate illegal logging in the western Congo basin.



Patrolling guards investigate illegal logging in the western Congo basin. Photograph: Mike Goldwater/Alamy

Globally much of the economic pressure that drives deforestation comes from consumers’ increasingly unhealthy eating habits. Demand for meat drives demand for cheap animal feed, and soy grown on recently deforested land is a key part of intensive factory farming. “Eating less meat makes a difference,” said Streck.



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